Any of us who have collected the stamps of the United States will be familiar with the Golden Gate International Golden Gate Exposition issue released February 18, 1939.

This article, extracted from the Quarterly Review (February, 1939), gives us some interesting historic background to this famed exhibition.

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Treasure Island, where the Golden Gate International Exposition will open on February 18, 1939, to continue until the following December, has been made entirely by man, It is regarded as a real engineering achievement. A mile long and nearly half a mile wide, it rests on a shallow area formerly from six to twenty-five feet under water in San Francisco Bay, just north of the San Francisco Oakland bridge, with which it is joined by highways. In February, 1936, United States Army engineers, cooperating with Exposition workers, started dredging on a twenty-four hour schedule until after a year and five months some 25, 000, 000 cubic yards of black bay sand had been dug from the floor of the San Francisco Bay and dumped into a huge square rimmed by a stone sea wall.

The Triumphal Arch, Treasure Island. Light standards at left are patterned after Siamese umbrellas.

The island completed, the sand had to be washed free of its salt, so that trees, flowering plants, and shrubbery could be transplanted and kept growing on its surface. It has been an expensive process, but at the completion of the Exposition, the island will become a municipal airport to serve the San Francisco-Oakland area. Two hangars will serve as exhibit buildings during the Fair, and with the administration building are expected to be the only structures, which will remain for the airport.

Treasure Island, Site of the Golden Gate Exposition. The 400-foot tower of The Sun is a dominant future.

The Fair in San Francisco Bay will not be a mere repetition of the New York Fair, which will be in operation during part of the same period. It is to be a pageant of the Pacific, giving the story in exhibits of the growth of California from its early settlement. The world of tomorrow is not to be emphasised but rather the immediate past. As a symbol of this idea, the principal tower at the Fair, will be topped by a gold-leafed phoenix, which will be bathed in flames of artificial light after dark, pointing the observer to the story of San Francisco rising from the new-born ashes of its disastrous fire in 1906.

Travel will be emphasised too, even to the extent of suggesting that visitors may swing around the continent and visit both Fairs. Most of the Pacific nations and some European countries have assured their participation, as well as most of the states in the West. China is reproducing an entire Chinese village, and the Netherlands East Indies intends to have a pavilion with bas-reliefs copied from the ruins of Boro-Budur and the jungle temples. California, among other things, plans a hall of mines. There is also to be a vacation land, with transportation lines, clubs, travel bureaus and state groups combining to present the view of the West as a land for travellers, combining the natural beauty and wonder of the western scenes with idea of sports.

The Administration Building is surmounted by a weather tower and glass cupola, which gives a view of the entire island. Except for this building and the two hangars, the structures have uniform design and appearance, suggesting Oriental splendour of ancient days. They are all to be covered with composition stucco with blown mica, pinkish beige in sunlight. The mica has been compressed into glittering bubbles, which will radiate as sheets of fire in the artificial light. The decorative motifs are modernistic in detail, but there is an old-world atmosphere in the flights of steps, the courts and the tree-lined fountains. Giant gates decorated with lofty massed elephants open into an avenue of palms. A circular system will take care of visitors, who will see everything. There will be no “back streets.” Except for interior work, the key structures are completed for this ancient walled city in new architectural type.

The Fair will truly represent a magic city of romance and beauty in the blue bay, dramatised everywhere by colour.  It is compact in contrast to the space and vistas of   New York Fair. Its tower of the Sun, representing pan-Pacific worship before the dawn of history, marks also the contrast, as compared to New York’s modernistic Perisphere and Trylon.

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As a footnote, I am reminded by a contemporaneous 20th Century Fox film Charlie Chan at Treasure Island (1939) begins with Charlie and his Number 2 son, Jimmy, on board a flight, which will arrive at the new airport at Treasure Island, San Francisco. Well worth a viewing, if you enjoy vintage black and white movies with atmosphere and the odd murder…